Inside an old bank building from 1849 in Skien, Norway, lies the Telemark Art Centre. The vibrant centre has a unique approach to honouring and showcasing regional talent; its latest investment is an innovative five-year art venture that celebrates local professional artists by exhibiting their lifelong practices in books and retrospectives.

Time flies, but a 75-year life on this earth, filled with challenges, impressions, expressions and relations, is still a long time. Imagine seeing someone’s life translated into art; it may surprise you how much you can relate to people who lived very different lives from yourself. The ambitious project at Telemark Art Centre does just this.

“It is an honour to celebrate great artistic talents with roots in Telemark. I don’t think most people know how impactful they are, and the feedback we have had so far has been overwhelming,” says Hilde Tørdal, director at Telemark Art Centre.

Telemark Art Centre leaves no stone unturned

Silent Tide (2006) by Marilyn Ann Owens. Owens uses objects like a radiator as symbols for human warmth.

Pattern Unlimited

Brita Been’s exhibition marked the beginning of the project. Been is a 76-year-old tapestry artist whose large-format works are renowned for their explorations of pattern. For her Vine tapestry, she won the international Cordis Prize for Tapestry in 2019 – the most prestigious accolade in the world of tapestry-making.

Telemark Art Centre leaves no stone unturned

The four-metre long tapestry, Three Stockings and Shirt Front Embroidery (2020) by Brita Been.

Been has a unique eye for patterns and draws inspiration from different cultures, locations and eras. After discovering a particular pattern, she produces a body of sketches that explore the impact of different colours and their interactions. The final sketch will become the foundation of a beautiful woven tapestry. Her signature is the use of bold colours on black backgrounds and her largest work – a four-metre-long piece – took two years to complete. “Every time she goes on a journey, she finds inspiration and creates a tapestry from something she discovered along the way. Patterns are her constant source of inspiration,” Tørdal says.

The exhibition of her work at Telemark Art Centre is called Pattern Unlimited, and an accompanying monograph of the same title has been published by the centre, containing essays and photographs from her entire life’s work as a textile artist, spanning over 50 years.

Telemark Art Centre leaves no stone unturned

Left: Et Ubevoktet Øyeblikk (2006), oil on wood, 26cm x 33cm by Marilyn Ann Owens. Right: Hilde Tørdal, director at Telemark Art Centre. Photo: Hatim Kaghat

Raising questions about the world

Another force to be reckoned with, and the name behind the second exhibition in the project, is the 73-year-old visual artist Marilyn Ann Owens. Throughout her 50-year career, she has made her mark with a wide variety of paintings, drawings, prints and photographs, some of which are in the Norwegian National Museum’s collection.

Owens had a challenging upbringing, growing up in working-class northern England, the daughter of a police officer. Reflecting on and questioning her own struggles forms the conceptual basis of much of her art. Her work is characterised by the use of symbols couched in surreal contexts. Her images are figurative, dense with allegory, and often involve a confrontation with the world, the people in it, or herself. Her work can come across as a dark and intense reflection of society and social behaviours – but not without humour, warmth and room for interpretation.

“It is amazing how Marilyn’s work resonates with people. She takes on subject matters like loneliness, feeling like an outsider, power structures in relations, anger, hopelessness and the lack of human contact. These are struggles we all face at some point, and I see many, especially younger people, connecting with her art,” Tørdal says. Owens’ exhibition is over, but her retrospective can still be enjoyed in the accompanying book Stein Blad Bein, or Stone Blood Bone in English. Information on both Been and Owens is available on the Telemark Art Centre website.

The next exhibition in this series will focus on Meta Norheim, a talented oil painter from Vrådal in Telemark. Her exhibition will open in 2024, the same year as her 90th birthday. Future exhibitions of the work of Anne Stabell and Ingrid Lene Langedok will run in 2025 and 2026, respectively.

Telemark Art Centre leaves no stone unturned

Left: Stein Blad Bein: the monograph on the work of Marilyn Ann Owens, published by Telemark Art Centre. Middle: Silent Tide (2006), ink drawing 45cm x 42cm, by Marilyn Ann Owens.Right: Evening View with Silk Slipper (2006), oil on wood, 33cm x 39cm by Marilyn Ann Owens.

An art centre full of life

Norway’s unique art centres are founded and run by artists. They’re free to visit, provide advice on art commissions and produce touring exhibitions that visit schools. “We give people the opportunity to learn about and enjoy contemporary art. There is a lot happening inside these walls. It’s easy to bring the whole family,” Tørdal says.

Telemark Art Centre is a contributor to the art festival Greenlight, which focuses on climate change, sustainability, and environmental issues. The festival is a collaboration bewteen Spriten Kunsthall, Skiens Kunstforening and Kunsthall Grenland, and uses art as a mouthpiece to explore complex and important issues. The next Greenlight festival will be held in September and October 2024, curated by the independent Swedish curator, art critic and editor Power Ekroth.

Telemark Art Centre plays an important role in making contemporary art accessible and enjoyable for people. Tørdal encourages everyone to go visit their local art centre when traveling:
“At its best, contemporary art has the power to initiate a change of mindset, raise the right questions or evoke emotions that can lead to enlightenment. It can also simply be a delight or offer an escape. You never know what kind of treasures you will find.”

Telemark Art Centre leaves no stone unturned

Clouds (2014), tapestry 195cm x 200cm, by Brita Been.

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